Summit Elevation (m): 2900
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: The final summit ridge to the highest point is very exposed and loose, other than that it’s a moderate scramble on scree and slabs.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
Mount Astley is interesting for a number of reasons. I wasn’t even aware of this peak before I found out that Raf and Eric were planning to ascend it on Sunday, June 7th and invited me along. I did absolutely no research and for some reason Raf convinced me that it was a short day out. I blew off Phil Richards (we were planning Threepoint Mountain) because of a later start on Astley and a feeling of laziness induced by a long drive and ascent of Wildhorse Ridge with my family the day before. Sorry Phil!! So back to interesting Mount Astley. The reasons I find this peak interesting;
- This is one of a very few peaks that has been unnamed. It used to be called ‘Astley’ and everyone still calls it that, but officially you won’t find it on any maps.
- Nobody seems sure where the summit is. Yep! That’s the truth. Indications are that the summit is the one directly above the Cascade River but since the mountain has been officially unnamed, nobody is sure anymore. Read on…
- The most likely ‘official’ (unofficial) named peak is not the highest one! The highest peak is along a ridge and clearly part of the same mountain. This is the peak that is being called ‘Astley’ both by me and by the Rocky Mountain Ramblers. So Nakagawa and Steven Song aren’t so generous, and consider the lower summit the official one. But since it’s no longer official can anyone claim an official summit on this hunk of rock anyway?! Damn! Climbing mountains used to be so simple. 😉
- On official maps (including Garmin GPS maps), the highest summit is around 50-60 vertical meters too low. This is my strongest evidence that the west summit (lower one) used to be the officially named one. I think the map makers got lazy and just assumed the east summit bumps must be the same height as the named summit (otherwise why wouldn’t that be the summit?!), so they marked all three as the same height. Altimeter GPS readings from three devices show the lower, west summit at around 2840m and the higher east summit at around 2900m.
- The higher summit actually has two summit blocks. The easternmost one entails difficult, exposed and very loose scrambling. It’s also clearly a wee bit higher than the western summit and has slightly better views too. So tagging the highest point on the Astley massif is difficult scrambling rather than just moderate.
- Both the lower west and higher east summits are visible from Lake Minnewanka and the Trans Canada Highway so that doesn’t help either. (i.e. peakfinder shows both summits and calls it ‘Astley’).
Now that I’ve cleared that mess up, I’ll proceed to talk about the actual scramble of Mount Astley. In short? It reminded all of us who have done Mount Girouard of that approach / scramble. A lot. The initial hike from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot, up Stewart Canyon is a pleasant stroll through thinly forested slopes with a raging Cascade River far below. I was delighted to find large groups of my favorite flowers along the trail – Ladies Slippers. After the pleasant walk along Stewart Canyon, we arrived at the drainage coming down from Astley. This is where the approach reminded us of Girouard. The next few hours were spent navigating up a wonderful drainage, hoping over rocks and boulders and gazing up at a tight, steep walled canyon with bolted climbing routes and even two stuck ropes still dangling from high above!
These types of approaches are always more fun on approach and this one was no different. It’s nice not to be bushwhacking and climbing up the rocky creek bed was like climbing stairs. This terrain gets very hard on the knees on descent though. Eventually the narrow canyon widened and there was more debris from the brutal 2013 June floods scattered around. We could navigate through most of it easily. Some of it was a PITA but nothing serious. To our surprise there was no running water in this drainage until the split, where we wanted to go climber’s left. We gratefully drank cup fulls of fresh, cold water and refilled our bottles before continuing up a steep side drainage towards the upper hanging valley under Astley’s summits.
Once we finally broke out of all drainages, we had already gained almost 1000 meters of height gain! The upper hanging valley is one of those typical alpine meadows that are my favorite Rockies destinations. They always make me want to bivy… The group had a passionate debate about which peak we were going to go for. Steven desperately wanted to go immediately left, to the likely originally named summit. He reasoned that nobody we knew had ascended it and he liked the look of it. I didn’t know that So had called it a ‘moderate’ scramble or I likely would have agreed with Steven. At this point, we still thought the summits were the same height. Raf, Eric and I reasoned that no matter what else, the east summit had better views and we knew the route would go. We made a strange decision to split up – we’re all confident scramblers so this wasn’t a horrible idea. Nobody was angry – we just wanted different things. Three of us were more concerned about great views and Steven really wanted to see if the west summit was truly a scramble or not.
Raf, Eric and I started towards the easternmost peak on loose scree and some very handy snow patches. Eventually we found a moderate gully which led on scree and slabs to the col between Steven’s peak and ours. Some folks won’t like coming down this stuff – slabs can be tricky especially when wet. From the ridge, the summit block looked impressive! I was hoping it would stay ‘moderate’ and it did. As we climbed the final slopes it was also very obvious that our peak was higher than the one that Steven was now standing on top of. This was a surprise, but made me satisfied with our decision to bag this summit rather than the other one.
As we walked the final stretch to the summit, we immediately noticed that there was a slightly higher summit immediately to the east. It was also very obvious that we were quite a bit higher than the west summit that Steven climbed. I didn’t waste any time and started the scramble over to the high point. I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be as moderate as the previous sections! The rock is extremely friable on this traverse, and the exposure is pretty severe on both sides. Great care must be taken here. I eventually did make it over and indeed, the summit was slightly higher, maybe 1 or 2 meters. The views to the south, east and north were very nice. Inglismaldie, Girouard, Peechee, Costigan, Saddle, Orient Point, Blackrock, Devil’s Head and of course Mount Aylmer were all very prominent. Further away, Mount Assiniboine and other summits west and north were also looking fine under the clear, hot June sky.
After taking many photos and at least 45 to 60 minutes on the summit we started our descent. I’m impressed that the Ramblers managed this with a large group and no injuries – the descent is very loose and we kicked many rocks down despite trying hard not to. We met up with Steven before proceeding back down the long approach drainages. He verified that his summit was basically a moderate scramble with route finding. He also found some evidence of a register (unreadable), which we didn’t have on ours. We all agreed that while his summit was most likely the previously named one, ours was higher and had better views. It’s up to you which is more important! 😉 The hike out was long and very hot, but easy and pleasant enough for the most part. It certainly wasn’t the ‘easy, short’ day out that I was expecting but 9.5 hours wasn’t too bad.
I highly recommend Astley as a scramble for fit parties who are tired of beaten trails to their summits. The absolute high point is a difficult and exposed scramble, so it’s up to you which of the options you choose to call ‘Astley’. In the end – it really doesn’t matter does it? 😉